What are microfibres and microplastics in fashion? 

While there is a greater awareness of plastic pollution from plastic packaging, few consumers recognise that some clothing can also be a source of microplastics, but in the form of microfibres.
Photo courtesy of Sime Basioli via Unsplash.


20 July 2023

Both synthetic and natural materials shed microfibres in the environment — whenever we wear, wash and dispose of our clothes, we shed microfibres. Once released into the environment, they are a magnet for organic pollutants and toxic chemicals, causing damage to the ecosystems they enter. While natural textiles can generally break down in the environment, depending on treatments and finishes, synthetics can persist for hundreds of years.

Microfibres derived from synthetic fibres are also considered microplastics. These are defined as small fragments that are 5 mm or less in size and are often invisible to the naked eye. Synthetic textiles are estimated to be the largest source of primary and secondary microplastics in the ocean, accounting for 34.8% of global microplastic pollution1

The amount of clothes made from synthetic fibres continues to grow at an alarming rate, with nearly 75% of clothing projected to be made from them by 20302. Microplastics can be ingested by marine animals, with catastrophic effects on species and the entire marine ecosystem. 

However, there are already exciting innovations that can reduce the release of microfibres in the environment, such as the washing machine filter developed by our innovator PlanetCare or the closed loop cleaning system that preserves water and electricity and captures microfibres by our innovator Tersus

There are few easy actions that we, as consumers, can take to help reduce the spread of microfibres:

  • Filter out microfibres with laundry bags or washing machine filters.
  • Wash your clothes only when necessary with a quick, cold cycle. 
  • Choose natural materials, like cotton, over synthetic ones, like polyester.
  • Remember: the best way to reduce the environmental impact of the clothes you wear is to buy less.


1 Boucher, J. and Friot, D. (2017). Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: A Global Evaluation of Sources. IUCN. Available at: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2017-002-En.pdf

2 Fashion Transparency Index 2023, Fashion Revolution. Available at: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/transparency/


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